Upcoming Performances

May 13, 5:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N.C.

June 10
Guest recitalist, Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rochester, Minn.

September 23, 4:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, Schantz organ 40th anniversary, Culpeper Baptist Church, Culpeper, Va.

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Getting into character

Does the music begin with the first piston? The first note? On your way to the console? Does the music end with the final release? With General Cancel? With the applause?

When should we get into character for a given piece? Perhaps pistons for a rocket launcher of a piece should be hit with more insistence than those for a quiet or slushy piece. I often sense a disconnect between what I see and what I hear. Consider a hypothetical performance of the fiery piece of your choice. The organist:

-- slides onto the bench slowly and carefully;
-- gets situated on the bench, rocking back and forth slowly to set the derrière in place just so;
-- gives the score a friendly pat to make sure it doesn’t fall off the rack;
-- sits a moment in meditation with hands in lap and head bowed;
-- straightens up, gives the score one more pat; shifts hiney one more time;
-- presses the first piston gingerly and/or elegantly (Note: if this is a gutbuster of a piece, then the console will go THOK while it draws all those stops. It’s almost as if the console knows something exciting is about to happen, and it makes an appropriate noise in preparation.);
-- checks boxes open;
-- places hands;
-- places feet (or not, unfortunately);
-- plays the piece with all manner of fiery attack OR plays with a dainty touch, relying on the registration to produce the excitement;
-- lifts the final chord slowly and delicately (and unevenly);
-- moves right hand immediately to Cancel and left hand to music rack to clear the score away;
-- OR moves both hands to lap;
-- OR stares at score, waits for applause;
-- slides off slowly.

A blazing fire of a piece suggests to me a completely different, “in-character” approach, where the organist:
-- glides onto the bench in character;
-- punches the first piston in character (perhaps even in tempo!);
-- sets hands and feet;
-- releases final chord with great energy;
-- breaks (or maintains) character with applause, hits Cancel, and slides off.

On the other end of the energy spectrum: I once ended a Lenten recital with the Langlais Kyrie from the Hommage à Frescobaldi. The piece was apparently unfamiliar to the audience, as was the notion of ending an organ recital quietly. After the release of the last chord:
-- nothing happened;
-- I lingered over the keys;
-- nothing;
-- I slowly came away from the keys;
-- nothing;
-- I sat;
-- nothing;
-- I very slowly approached and pressed Cancel;
-- nothing;
-- I sat again;
-- nothing;
-- I slowly began to slide off;
-- the applause finally began and grew, now that character was finally broken.

That was completely unplanned, but it turned out to be a wonderful moment. All of us lingered in that moment: it was Lent; it was quiet; the piece was meditative and beautiful. Only then was it over. All that might very well have been marred by breaking character too early or too quickly. There is merit in awareness of character and when it should be established and broken. It's fun to play with!

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